Every child growing up in India knows the story of the jackal who fell into the vat of blue dye, and discovering the power of his majestic new appearance, declared himself king of the forest. In spite of his pretenses, the jackal, eventually betrayed by his own instincts, was set upon by the other animals. This and many similar narratives are found in the PanÅcatantra, the collection of Sanskrit tales for children compiled by a Jaina monk named Puµrn|abhadra in 1199 CE.
In this book, McComas Taylor looks at the discourses that give shape and structure to the fall of the indigo jackal and the other tales within the PanÅcatantra. The work’s fictional metasociety of animals, kings, and laundrymen are divided according to their jaµti, or “kind.” This discourse of caste holds that individuals’ essential natures, statuses, and social circles are all determined by their birth. Taylor applies contemporary critical theory developed by Foucault, Bourdieu, Barthes, and others to show how these ideas are related to other Sanskritic master-texts, and describes the “regime of truth” that provides validation for the discourse of division.